The Constitution of India has a simply wonderful story to tell. The journey of its creation is nothing short of a bestseller laden with adequate passion, struggle and its own share of conflicts. True, it is often stated to be a bag of borrowings, taking governance guidelines from different nations; but what it does not borrow from anyone in the world is it’s rich artistic heritage which has been captured in the legal document by artist Nandalal Bose, the “artist laureate of India”!
We take a look at the art of Nandalal Bose, who with his team of artists from Shantiniketan, painstakingly illustrated each page of the Constitution.
As a young artist, Bose was deeply influenced by the murals of Ajanta Caves. In the backdrop of the Indian freedom struggle, Bose along with other artists of the Bengal School (including his mentor Abanindranath Tagore) worked towards reviving the Indian style of art, moving away from European techniques that had become prevalent in art-schools at the time.
In 1909, Nandalal Bose spent months copying the 5th century murals of Ajanta Caves. Later, he would borrow from these very murals, the borders & motifs for the pages of India’s Constitution. Everywhere he traveled, he paid close attention to popular forms, urban and rural, Hindu and Muslim, from woodblock prints to palm-leaf paintings, to ephemeral designs drawn in rice powder directly on the ground. He went to China and Japan to study ink and brush painting, and in some of his earlier works you can see the influence!
Nandalal Bose and India’s Freedom Struggle
Nandalal Bose’s involvement in India’s freedom movement started as far back as 1930s when he created this linocut print of Mahatma Gandhi walking with a stick. Created to mark Gandhi’s arrest for starting the Dandi March (protesting the British tax on Salt), the image evoked a sense of strong will to overcome all obstacles. It quickly became an icon of sorts for the Non-Violent Freedom Movement.
Incidentally, Nandalal did not come to know Gandhi personally until 1935 when Gandhi sought Bose’s help to install an art and craft exhibition at the Lucknow session of Congress. Eventually, Bose went on to build a team that would create artwork and installations for Congress Sessions in Indore, Faizpur, and finally Haripura (Gujarat). Before this, Nandalal Bose was known amidst the elite art circles – but with Gandhi’s praise of his art, he became a household name. Soon, he was entrusted with other projects too, including the illustration of the Constitution and the design of Bharat Ratna & Padma Shri emblems.
The famous Haripura Posters by Nandalal Bose:
At a time when we speak of environmental sustainability, it is absolutely inspiring to learn of Bose’s ideas for the Haripura session. Gates, pillars, exhibition, cluster of stalls, thatched shelters, landscape garden, meeting areas and residential tents were all decorated with local material of bamboo, thatch and khadi of different hues. Earthen pots and vessels were adorned with designs; tassels of paddy grass hung in rows, baskets and cane work – made by the hands of local craftspeople – were all used to lend the session an elegant rural atmosphere.
Activity Suggestion : Get kids to think of environment-friendly ways to decorate the home for their Birthday or the Republic-Day celebration in school!
As a significant component of this huge public art Nandalal planned separate paintings which are today famous as Haripura posters depicting Indian life in all its variety. These posters depicted subjects like Hunters, Musicians, Bull Handlers, Carpenter, Smiths, Spinner, Husking women and modest scenes of rural life including animal rearing, child-nursing and cooking. The posters were simply displayed in wooden frames, as if they were windows into people’s everyday lives.
Illustrating the Constitution :
The members of the Constituent Assembly thought it would only be appropriate if the Constitution could somehow represent India’s journey and heritage. Once again, the Congress entrusted Nandalal Bose with the task illustrating the pages. He carefully selected a team of artists (including Biswarup, Gouri, Jamuna, Perumal, Kripal Singh and other students of Kala Bhavana) who fashioned twenty-two images on the manuscript of the Indian Constitution, to depict a fragment of India’s vast historical and cultural heritage. Arranged chronologically, the illustrations were created using indigenous techniques of applying gold-leaf and stone colours. While Beohar Rammanohar Sinha is credited with the Preamble Page it was his student Dinanath Bhargava who sketched the National Emblem.
You can view the art on different pages of the Constitution here; or view them here on this Congress website.
Use this free downloadable worksheet to familiarise children with the art of Nandalal Bose : the Artist Laureate of India!
There are more than 7000 artworks by Nandalal Bose at the National Gallery of Modern Art Delhi. A visit is highly recommended to get up, close and personal with the art!
Using Nandalal Bose Art in School for Children:
There is so much one can learn from the art of Nandalal Bose. Here are some Creative Lesson Ideas
a) teach about the art of Observation and adapting local art into student artworks. What is the indigenous art your city is known for? For the smaller kids, you can ask them to look into indigenous art for motifs and patterns!
b) explore the art of another culture : adapting to the influence of Eastern cultures (Chinese and Japanese Ink Wash Technique)
c) how can students reflect on political environment and create art based on national sentiment?
d) try using sustainable, eco-friendly material to create decor, art and installations to celebrate Republic Day / Independence Day, etc in school.
Did the art of Nandalal Bose inspire you? If yes, please don’t hesitate to inspire someone else – share it ahead!
Browse through / Share our Republic Day Series:
The First Republic Day of India [with Activity Suggestions] + Bonus Download
Republic of Art: The Constitution as an Illustrated History of India
Republic Day Tableaus: A Quick Guide to India’s Heritage
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